We're closing in on the 24-hour mark before the Chicago Blackhawks are set to open their season against the Dallas Stars, and the team is still facing plenty of questions heading into the new season. These questions are primarily related to the salary cap and all of the nonsense and overdone secrecy that has plagued the week to this point, but there are also queries that linger over whether or not the Hawks are set to get the production they need from a few key players.
One of those players is Bryan Bickell. Bickell was awarded that fat four-year contract that carries a $4 million cap hit, which came on the heels of a brilliant playoff performance back in 2013. He's entering the second year of that contract, and if his statistical performance matches that of last year, he could absolutely find himself as a cap casualty by the time next summer roles around.
Bickell appeared in 59 games for the Blackhawks last season, tallying 11 goals (six short of his career high) and finishing with a minus-6 rating. He followed that up with seven goals and 10 points overall in the postseason, almost matching his total output from the regular season in a much smaller sample size, continuing to prove that he's a strong playoff performer, which is the primary reason that Stan Bowman through so much money at him.
His possession numbers were strong throughout the regular season, though, as his on-ice Corsi ranked fifth among Blackhawks forwards, and his relative Corsi was fourth. For Bickell, it's a matter of harnessing some sort of consistency and staying out of the press box, as has been the case in the last couple of seasons. Entering the new season more fit can help, as could the new potential line combination.
With Kris Versteeg out, the third line figures to at least start out featuring Brad Richards between Bickell and Jeremy Morin. Richards to his right could certainly lead to more production for Bickell. A net-front presence that he brings and net-crashing presence that Jeremy Morin adds also has the ability to grab some cheap goals that this team always seems to lack. It could certainly be a fun one to watch, and one that helps Bickell climb out of his tendency for early season slumps.
Provided he can do that, the Blackhawks will be in outstanding shape. Consistency has always been an issue for Bickell, whether it's consistency on the stat sheet or in the physical game. This is almost something of a put up or shut up year for him, with a new contract for Brandon Saad looming, so he's going to have to find that consistency and produce with much more regularity than he has in the past.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.